The social media stats for seniors are impressive: they’re the fastest growing group of users on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They’ve expanded their share of the social networking community by more than 150 percent over the past two years. And as Boomers begin to graduate into this age group, the numbers will vastly increase.
For Medicare agents, this opens a valuable window into the way seniors think. What are their questions about Medicare? Do they understand the products available? How effective are private Medicare marketing efforts? The online community provides answers to all of these questions, in a way that is arguably more valuable than traditional research. Thoughts shared on Twitter or Facebook are inherently unfiltered, not subject to scrutiny the way those same thoughts would be in a focus group or survey. In short, social media conversations are real.
So, what are people saying? A recent study by KBM Group Health Services, Online Listening About Medicare: Process, Insights, and Strategies, showed that, despite occasional rants, seniors are largely positive about their Medicare experiences. But it’s not all good. In many cases, they’re also missing critical pieces of information. LifeHealthPro talked with Deborah Stewart, vice president of strategic planning at KBM, to find out how agents can help fill this education gap. Here are her five essential tips:
1. Become a trusted source.
The number one thing seniors want is education. Often, they go online to seek advice about a program that is constantly changing – and this is one area where agents can provide value by doing the hard work for their clients. Stewart says there is great opportunity for health providers and agents to become trusted sources and quality content providers. Too many seniors feel overwhelmed at all there is to learn. As one participant expressed online: “Who can explain and simplify all the rules and restrictions [and] be trustworthy?”
2. Talk about health care reform.
Always an unwieldy topic, since health care reform has entered the picture, seniors are more confused than ever about how Medicare works. Stewart has heard a lot of misguided opinions over the past year and a half, many stemming from consumers who are aging into the program and trying to grasp the implications of health care reform all at once. “The real impact of health care reform on Medicare is still to be seen,” she says, “The five-star ratings and more of a reimbursement model based on customer satisfaction is absolutely a positive, but on the other side, we still don’t know whether coverage will be there at the level consumers are expecting.” No one knows exactly what to expect, but staying informed on the latest reform developments and sharing these with your clients is deeply valuable to consumers.
3. Differentiate between plans.
Seniors spend a lot of time talking about Medicare plan types and supplements. The online topics mentioned most include Medicare Part D (32.8%), Part C (31.3%), and Medicare supplements (8.9%). Some of these sentiments are negative: Seniors are constantly confused by changes to private plans, and upset when plans are eliminated. Says Stewart: “There is unbelievable confusion between traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Med Supp.” What’s really exciting, she says, is the advent of special-needs plans that target diabetes and other chronic diseases. These new plans focus on the individual and can dramatically improve someone’s quality of life and longevity.
4. Focus on customer service.
Remarkably, given the confusion that surrounds the program, Medicare customers are largely satisfied with their coverage. This goes against the stereotype, says Stewart. “We know from research … that Medicare has scored higher than [other] health plans. So, although we think that there’s a negative impression of Medicare, seniors are really very appreciative of having that health coverage.” Still, there’s room for improvement. Because the service consumers most want is education, agents should strive to communicate clear, simple facts that are highly relevant to their target market. And recognize that confusion doesn’t point to a lack of intelligence. “Confusion doesn’t mean that seniors aren’t smart, it might just mean that something needs to be explained more clearly,” concludes Stewart.
5. Look at the 12-month picture. Although the marketing season is contained, consumers today don’t just think about Medicare during enrollment period. To fully meet your clients’ needs, it’s important that you communicate with them year-round. In part, this is because people aren’t always aging in as they turn 65. Some wait longer, which means that advisors must work harder to anticipate when prospects or clients might need information. One way to do this is simply to join the online conversation. “I was very impressed with that sense of community,” Stewart notes in closing, “and let me say that it was not just consumers. There were a lot of professional bloggers and broker-agents [who were joining the conversation] and trying to support one another.”